By John Solomon and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Bill Clinton's presidential library raised more than 10 percent of the cost of its $165 million facility from foreign sources, with the most generous overseas donation coming from Saudi Arabia, according to interviews yesterday.
The royal family of Saudi Arabia gave the Clinton facility in Little Rock about $10 million, roughly the same amount it gave toward the presidential library of George H.W. Bush, according to people directly familiar with the contributions.
The presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has for months faced questions about the source of the money for her husband's presidential library. During a September debate, moderator Tim Russert asked the senator whether her husband would release a donor list. Clinton said she was sure her husband would "be happy to consider that," though the former president later declined to provide a list of donors.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has made an issue of the large yet unidentified contributors to presidential libraries, saying that he wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in such donations. Obama has introduced legislation that would require disclosure of all contributions to presidential libraries, including Clinton's, and Congress has actively debated such a proposal. Unlike campaign donations, money given to presidential libraries is often done with limited or no disclosure.
The Clinton library has steadfastly declined to reveal its donors, saying they were promised confidentiality. The William J. Clinton Foundation, which funds the library, is considered a charity whose contributors can remain anonymous.
In response to questions from The Washington Post, the foundation reiterated that it would not discuss specific sizes or sources of donations to honor the commitment it made to donors. But it acknowledged that some of the money Clinton received from the library came from foreign sources.
"As president, he was beloved around the world, so it should come as no surprise that there has been an outpouring of financial support from around the world to sustain his post-presidential work," a foundation statement said.
Bill Clinton has solicited donations for the library personally, aides said, but he also delegated much of the fundraising to others, especially Terence R. McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The foundation statement stressed that he has turned over the facility to taxpayers, as other former presidents have.
A handful of major donors' names to the Clinton library were disclosed in 2004 when a New York Sun reporter accessed a public computer terminal at the library that provided a list of donors. Soon after the article appeared, the list of donors was removed.
The amount of the contribution from Saudi Arabia and several other countries, as well as the percentage of the total given by foreigners, had not been revealed.
The Post confirmed numerous seven-figure donors to the library through interviews and tax records of foundations. Several foreign governments gave at least $1 million, including the Middle Eastern nations of Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the governments of Taiwan and Brunei.
In addition, a handful of Middle Eastern business executives and officials also gave at least $1 million each, according to the interviews. They include Saudi businessmen Abdullah al-Dabbagh, Nasser al-Rashid and Walid Juffali, as well as Issam Fares, a U.S. citizen who previously served as deputy prime minister of Lebanon.
Spokesmen for Kuwait and Taiwan confirmed that each government has given the library $1 million. Both governments also donated to other presidential libraries. Kuwait contributed at least $1 million to the library of former president George H.W. Bush, and Taiwan gave $2 million to the Ronald Reagan library.
Calls to the other governments were not returned, and the Middle Eastern individuals could not be located for comment.
Jack Kuei, a press officer for Taiwan in Washington, said his government's donation "is a way to promote a mutual understanding and it's a kind of public diplomacy." Kuwaiti counselor Jasem Albudaiwi called his nation's contribution "a friendly donation from the people and the government of Kuwait to the cause of the library."
The Reagan library does not disclose its donors, a spokeswoman said. The Bush and Jimmy Carter libraries have made a very broad disclosure. Except for a few donors who asked to remain anonymous, the Bush contributors have been named publicly, and the names of the largest among them are either chiseled into a wall or onto the bricks of a walkway at the library in Texas. The Carter library also has a wall of founders.
Bush's large foreign donors include Kuwait, Japan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The family of Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, contributed $1 million or more. Carter's donors include the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.
Clinton has been criticized for asking for donations, including from Saudi Arabia, at questionable moments. In an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal last year, former FBI director Louis J. Freeh said Clinton "hit up [Saudi Arabia's head of state] Prince Abdullah for a contribution to his library" during a meeting in which Freeh wanted Clinton to ask about the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Clinton has publicly disputed Freeh's account.
Clinton has also been challenged by members of Congress for accepting a reported $450,000 donation to his library from the former wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich before he granted Rich a pardon for tax evasion in 2001. Neither Clinton nor the Rich family confirmed the donation.
The Clinton Foundation was formed in 1997 soon after Clinton chose its 30-acre site near downtown Little Rock. The foundation not only helps to run the library, but it also oversees and finances Clinton's many policy initiatives.
The library is an imposing glass and metal structure overlooking the Arkansas River. Also on its landscaped grounds is the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
The Clinton library has also received large donations from Americans and American entities. The Roy and Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust has pledged $4 million, a person familiar with the gift said. The Wasserman Foundation of Los Angeles has given between $6 million and $7 million. Casey Wasserman, the foundation's president, has long been close to Bill Clinton.